Friday, November 28, 2008

Social Recontruct?

Like many others, I have been thinking a lot about the economy lately. The the inquisitive junkie I am, I wonder how we got here, what the systemic effects are, and how we can get out of it. Since there are so many people, companies, countries, factors involved, it is a very complex system. Basically, "THE economy" is a term that encompasses so much more than most people give it credit for. Gregory Bateson has a phrase, "The name is not the thing named." This is perfect for the name "economy" because the current economy includes basically every person in the world that has ever lived and any financial interaction they have ever had that has led us to this point. How does anyone analyze today's "global economy"??? You can't. Not effectively anyway. Sure, you can tell me how much is being spent and where its coming from and where its going, but those are fairly static numbers. Just because someone may be able to throw out some data doesn't mean anyone could really understand it. To understand it would be to understand everything from individuals to groups to cultures to nations to continents to the world and how each of those different subunits interact. No offense, but few economists can probably make that claim. Even a very capable group of economists, systemicists, anthropologists, and psychologists would have a hard time truly understanding the world economy - and that would have to be a very large group in order to understand each culture.
Sure, you can study the U.S., China, Japan, and Europe and get a pretty good idea, but not a complete idea.
I've completely digressed.... my point is, whether we understand it or not, the economy is fucked - especially in the U.S. - and I'm kind of glad. We (America) needed a good housecleaning. Things have been spiraling out of control. I recently saw a graph that showed house prices over the past 100 or so years (that accounted for inflation) - it showed how housing prices have dramatically increased over the last 10-20 years. Look at professional athlete's and movie star and music star salaries!!! Talk about inflation! 50 years ago, professional football players were working labor jobs in the off-season to supplement their football pay. Now, elite players are turning down $10Mil/year offers! WTF? Some people pay $100 for a game ticket and complain about a $6.00 beer and $3.00 soda even though those beer and soda companies pay for the commercial spots that pay the league/teams that pay those prima donna players we complain about.
I'm very interested to see how this recession will affect those things that have escalated out of control. I've already seen how it has affected the housing market. House values have decreased and houses are hard to sell. But, if people are collectively purchasing less cars, beer, soda, diamonds, and investing less money with investors, then will those companies be able to pay as much for commercial spots during sporting events? Or, similarly, if stadiums cannot fill seats because ticket prices are too high, will they be forced to lower the price? If commercial spot and ticket prices are lowered, will leagues/teams be able to pay their players as much?
Society won't make change - at least drastic changes - unless it has to. Today's economy, educational system, media, criminal justice system have all developed into what we know today over a long period of very subtle changes. Who's to say the way they are structured now is the best way? Few would argue that our educational system is the best it can get. But as long as the people at the top (i.e., the people that profit) are making money, they sure as hell aren't going to change anything, at least drastically, that may cause them to not make money any more. But if the economy were to crash completely, then "we" could build up our institutions from the ground up the way that makes sense in today's world. I liken it to a wildfire: yes, they are destructive and wipe away almost everything in existence, but after they are done, a stronger, healthier system grows out of it. Like a cleansing. The world could use a cleansing right about now. What a different world it would be if teachers, religious leaders, stay-at-home mothers, non-profit leaders, food pantry operators, etc were paid as much as athletes and athletes were playing sports for fun instead of millions of dollars. Would that drastic of a change really change the fabric of our society? Perhaps, but perhaps for the better.

So this is why they call it "Black Friday"???

By now you have probably heard about the Wal-Mart employee (a man) who was trampled to death on "black Friday" after Thanksgiving after the doors were opened early that morning. As long as the feed works, you can read about it at

Sadly a pregnant woman was also hurt in the stampede. (I had heard via word of mouth that she lost the baby, but I cannot confirm that.) And, yes, I use the word "stampede" deliberately, because those people - and many others across the country - were acting like animals. Animals succumb to their biological urges without using their minds to reason. Human beings should know and do better. That goes for their actions of trampling a man and pregnant woman and "taking doors of their hinges" that morning. But, perhaps more importantly, I think that goes for the days prior when they actually made the decision to get up early (or stay awake over night) to stand in line for 0-6 hours in the freezing cold just to save $40 on a GPS device or $20 on a DVD player.

Let's look at this from an economic perspective. I'm no economist or retail expert, but I'm pretty sure if virtually nobody showed up on Black Friday, the "deals" those stores offered would still be available later on, and probably for a longer time and as an even larger discount. But instead, many people were "hypnotized" or crazed into getting a great deal in our individualistic, "immediate satisfaction" society and don't think about how they are perpetuating a cycle that is actually not benefiting them as much as starting a new cycle.

The retail stores are manipulatively brilliant (or brilliantly manipulative) in creating a competitive situation that pits crazed shopper against crazed shopper. The "deals", they claim, are all for you - the consumer - but it seems the only entities benefiting from this season are the retails stores, the government via taxes, the confession booths, and apparently now hospitals.

This logical argument is on top of the fact that consumerism has taken over the entire point of the season - which is to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. In case you never noticed: CHRISTmas. I'm not a preacher; I'm simply pointing out that whether you're a believer or not, I'm pretty sure trampling people wasn't on the list of "NICE" things Santa keeps on his list. I'm pretty sure swearing at people in line, honking at people in parking lots, and complaining about gifts you get aren't on that list either.

Over the beltline and through the streets
To Meriter hospital we go.
The ambluance knows the way;
Write a check for your co-pay,
Through the operating doors we gooo, OH!

Merry fricking Christmas everyone!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Pessimist vs. Optimist

If you've read my blog before, you know I spend a lot of time thinking - especially about people. The other day I was thinking and wondering what the difference was between optimists and pessimists. Probability would lead me to think that good and bad things happen to just about everyone; and the number of good and bad things even out over time. There might be good days and bad days, good months and bad months, good years and bad years, but overall things probably just about even out. That being said, we probably all know people who are (or at least seem) happy nearly every day, and - vice versa - people who are mad/sad everyday and complain about everything. So, I guess I should clarify that I'm calling perpetually happy/positive people "Optimists" and perpetually negative people - though not clinically depressed - "Pessimists". And I do not consider people who ACT happy in public but are really miserable in private to be optimists; those people are not optimists or happy, just good actors.

Generally speaking, I tend to view or see each human being as being on a nearly infinite amount of spectrums for every imaginable physiological, biological, and personality trait - "level of optimism/pessimism" being just one of them.

What I came up with is that our existence is made up of successive, or simultaneous, neutral events. Without getting into constructivism, events are not good or bad in and of themselves. People construct their 'reality' based on previous experiences and attitudes toward those experiences.

Assuming events are neutral and people alone attribute values to them, most people have the ability to (and/or just do) reframe how events impact them. Reframing is a psychology term that roughly equates to "spinning". I think optimists have the ability to reframe, or spin, more situations in their own minds. For example, let's say a person is driving down the road and is held to a slower than ideal speed by a car driving slow in front of them. A pessimist would probably get frustrated and upset and perhance even complain or yell (heaven forbid tailgate the person in front), whereas an optimist might simply not worry about it. The optimist may even justify why the person in front of them is going slow - because they are looking for an address or trying to be safe. Some optimists might even be able to reframe the situation as "meant to be", like maybe by going slow, they will avoid getting a ticket or getting in an accident as if the slow driver was sent by God to keep the optimist out of trouble.

Are you an optimist or a pessimist? Do you reframe things in your mind to have them "fit" a happier reality? Or is the world out to get you?

Me? I'm a realist. It is what it is and I call it how I see it. ;)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

F-ing stupid Ford

Have you heard the recent radio commercial for the Ford F-150? I cannot seem to locate it online, but the gist is this: Are you tough enough to drive/own a Ford F-150 truck??? The radio ad starts of by saying you're trying to enjoy an athletic event at the stadium of your favorite team when a fan for the other team starts yelling from the row behind you. I'm paraphrasing: You have three choices, do you a) do nothing, b) ask him to be quiet, or c) shove a hot dog down his throat, sit down and enjoy the rest of the game in peace and quiet. The commercial goes on to say that if you chose option c) then you might be tough enough to drive a Ford F-150.

Listen, I get the idea of questioning a guy's "manhood" in order to motivate him to buy something. This has worked on simple minds for decades if not centuries. It works for Tabasco sauce, loud music, football, MMA, big tires, trucks, and many other "manly" things. I mean, what man in his right mind is going to think - or worse, admit - that they are not man enough to buy or use something??? Obviously that mode of advertising and persuasion is working or ad/marketing agencies would stop using it. As ridiculous as it is, I get it.

The part that really bothers me is that this commercial - and this company (Ford) - is equating physically punishing someone with "tough" or "manly" in order to sell their product. Perhaps I'm taking this too seriously, but it bothers me. If I get this commercial right, if I can beat someone up then I'm tough enough to drive a Ford F-150. Am I the only one to which this sounds stupid? To me it makes me think more of "meat head" than "tough".

Am I to assume, then, that every person - man or woman - that drives a Ford F-150 is a testosterone induced, short-fused, simpleton?

What a sad society we live in when the inability to solve a problem by means other than brute force and imposing your physical will on someone is celebrated and encouraged and romanticised. I'd rather Ford just be more straight-forward and state, "If you have a small penis, no frontal lobe, no people skills, and no problem solving skills, then compensate by driving a big truck with a loud horn so you can drive like an idiot and intimidate smart people in fuel-efficient sedans."

Either way, its safe to say this blogger will not be caught dead driving a Ford F-150 anytime soon.

"I'm sorry"

I apologize in advance that this entry is pathetically similar to the "love" entry I wrote just a few days ago, but...

Why do people get so hung up on hearing the words, "I'm sorry." I, for one, do not. But many people do; they cannot function in a relationship after a disagreement/fight/problem until they hear those words. Sincere or not, does hearing those words make everything better? Can people not function or forgive without those words? Does saying those words "earn" the right to be treated normal again solely because those words were uttered? Is it that simple?

Parents "force" their children to apologize after doing something wrong. The children learn to say "I'm sorry" to get out of a timeout, do be able to play again, to earn their treat back, but do they really mean it? Are they sincere? Do they really grasp the idea of remorse and forgiveness?

Me? I prefer someone to SHOW me they are sorry. Saying you're sorry is fine and dandy, and I appreciate the gesture, but talk is cheap. SHOW me you are sorry by your actions. Show me you are remorseful and that you are making strides to prevent the same infraction from happeneing again in the future. Show me you are humbled and earn my trust back. Saying you're sorry only shows me you have manners, and as a wise man once told me, "manners are a just a social lubricant." Manners are great, but they're not as great as a loyal, trustworthy friend.

The fact of the matter is, regardless of how many times you err and ask for forgiveness, I will always forgive you - that's not the issue - but there comes a time where I will cut my losses and just stop being around you. I forgive you and love you as a brother, but I don't care to be around you because you make me something other than happy.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

McCain or Obama or Other

Lets get this out of the way: I'm an independent. I don't want to be associated with a specific party, because I don't agree with ALL of either party's motives/perspectives. I cannot be totally objective, because I am pretty sure I know who I'm voting for. But, this entry is now about who to vote for really; its more about how to vote. Let me explain...

Over the past few months I've heard people say which presidential candidate they are going to vote for and why. Some reasons are unique, but I hear a lot of people basing their decision on how each candidate will affect them personally.

For example: one person said they would vote for McCain because Obama would hurt their business. Another person said they would vote for Obama because Obama would provide better health care benefits and this person had a disease that may/will require a lot of medical attention over the next 4 years.

There are two reasons why I think this kind of narrow-focused decision making has flaws:
Firstly, when has a candidate every tried doing everything he/she said they would during a campaign? Secondly, even if they want to do something, there are enough checks and balances in the system to prevent every idea a candidate has from coming to fruition. That being said, I realize you have to base your decision on something... and perhaps it is at least a good starting point. But I digress...

The real question that those explanations brought up for me is, is it better to choose a candidate that best fits your individual needs or best fits the needs of the country?

If I choose a candidate that helps me and my relatively small group of people, is that selfish and a good use of democratic process? What about everyone else?
If I get what I want, but the rest of the country goes to shit because I don't care about anything but me, am I really going to be that well off?

Forgive me, but it goes back to systems thinking. Many people are egocentric and more or less think about how the candidates will affect them (and maybe their families and close friends) directly. Most people also are looking at the static picture instead of the long term ramifications of decisions.
But like a budget, if one thing goes up, something else must go down. If a candidate put all of the budget into health care, what would happen to education? If education lacks, are the doctors caring for us going to be as good? If they gave a tax break to businesses, who will be taxed? The employees, who will then need a higher salary to provide for their families. So which is worse for the business owner, being taxes or paying higher wages? What's the difference?
Another example is the upper class getting a tax break. They probably think its great because its so much more money they can keep. But if they get a tax break, then its very likely that the lower classes won't. That won't cause - but it could play a part - in poverty and increased crime. Who knows, maybe someone in that lower class will rob the upper class citizen who got a tax break and thought life was grand.

So, I think you get my point. Choosing a candidate over an issue or two doesn't really make a lot of sense. It seems like both candidates are aiming for similar things, but just going about it differently anyway. We're all going to get screwed the same amount by each candidate, one way or another.

I prefer to choose a candidate on who things in this order:
1) Putting time and effort into the foundation of the country. Band-aid programs really chap my ass. Treating the symptom doesn't solve the problem or change the process. Pulling troops out of Iraq makes a lot of sense for today (because you get troops out, save lives today anyway, and stop spending money initially) but what will happen after that? There's no guarantee that spending will be over at that time. (I don't mean to pick on Obama, its just a real life example.) Tax breaks sound great, but at what expense? Are we jeopardizing schools, healthcare, crime, etc? Putting more cops on the streets may reduce crime in a certain area, but only until the criminals move to a different area. I want to see a candidate put time, money, and effort into families, parenting, education, etc. Relationships and Intellect will make this company strong. With good interpersonal relationships and intelligence, success and financial prosper are sure to follow. Sure, that will take time and the results may not show up until after that president is done, but it will make American stronger longer.
2) A proven track record. I can't predict the future, but noticing a pattern from the actual past can at least be something to go by. Lofty goals are great, but does the candidate have a proven record of doing what they say and being successful?

Obviously, this is just one man's opinions. I am always very open to other ways of seeing things. Please tell me how you decide or what you think is best for America.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Love. Don't just say you do.

One of the best words of advice my mother gave me when I was younger was, "Love is an action, not a feeling." That always made a lot of sense to me. More recently, I've integrated that statement with my interest in cybernetics and communication theory and systems theory, which has augmented the idea.

One cannot love in a vacuum. Other than "loving yourself," one cannot love without an "other" to direct the love toward, an other person, thing, etc. As much as I love animals and nature, let's use the example of two people. If we consider two ideas, 1) One cannot not communicate, and 2) All behavior is communication, then it leads to support the claim that "love" is an action - or behavior or communication - rather than some abstract term representing a feeling.

Maybe its better to back up a level and discuss the idea that love has various definitions and (I think) those definitions are often mixed up and/or misused:
There is a "love" that is used to describe the way someone feels when they are getting to know someone and are excited by their interactions. Going forward I will refer to this as a chemical response called infatuation.
I will refer to the observable action or behavior - or manifestation of the infatuation - as "love".
Also, for the sake of breadth, "love" will include any and all favorable behavior - or behavior that is received as favorable by the receiver - including but not limited to romantic love, platonic love, brotherly love, parental love, Samaritan love, etc.

In our lives, do we say things like, "I love you" or "I have always loved you" or "I will always love you"? What does that mean? If person A says, "I love person B" does that mean Person A feels good inside because of the relationship with person B or that Person A behaves in a loving manner toward person B? I think too often it is the former, especially in newer and younger relationships. In either definition, does that mean that we always feel excited, every minute of every day? Does it mean that we behave in a loving manner every second of every day? Is it just a cliche? Am I un-romanticizing it by calling out its meaning?

How do we love? Are we overt with our love or do we keep it all to ourselves and just think about it? Does it do any good to think about loving? Which is better: saying "I love you" or doing something that shows love like doing the dishes or giving a back rub or playing a game or listening intently?

It might be worth asking yourself: is my love about me and my feelings or about my relationship, my interaction, my behavior with another person? and see if it changes anything.

What about hate?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Truth vs. Fact

I recently read a newspaper article about a series of events that I had previously been privy to. I had probably heard and/or seen and/or experienced more about these events than the article writer had prior to writing the article. The article, based on the numerous lengthy, emotional comments left on the internet, evoked an polarizing and emotional response in its readers as well as all involved.
As I was thinking about the article and the responses, it reminded me of the old cliche, "Don't believe everything you read." I find it amazing that as untrusting a society that we are of others (in general), we tend to take newspapers for fact. We make a lot of (false) assumptions by doing so. We assume that the newpaper company, the editor, the writer, and all witnesses and quoters are all being 100% truthful. We also assume that all of those same people were given the right facts and have "done their homework" to attain all of the facts. We may also assume that all of the above are unbiased. (In the article I read, the writer definitely had more intention than simply writing the newsworthy. Its amazing how "reporting the facts" can look so one-sided depending on which facts/truths are reported and which facts/truths are omitted.)
More importantly, I realized the vast difference between Truth and Fact. I liken it, slightly, to the childhood game of telephone, whereas the farther you get from the "horses mouth," the more a message is distorted. The second to last person might be "telling the truth" based on what they heard, but that doesn't make it fact.
And so it is with a reporter or newswriter: unless they witness an actual event themselves (and even then there's no guarantee that FACT will be written, because it will subjectively written based on that writer's interpretation), a reporter/writer of the news is usually getting their information from someone else. When have two witnesses of an accident "remembered" exactly the same thing even though they had witnessed the same accident? So even though the "victim", witness, and reporter all honestly believe they are telling the truth - and maybe they are - that doesn't necessarily mean that what is written in the newspaper is fact.

What I took away from this is that I need to be careful how and what I judge. There have been many times while watching Dateline or 20/20 that I will judge the "villain" in the news story based on what has been shown to me; but I need to realize that I do not have all of the facts and my opinions are based solely on what has been reported to me and what has NOT been reported to me.

I also realized there are a lot of people in our "highly educated town of Madison" that are emotionally reactive, ignorant, and just plain rude, regardless of which side they took.
Here's to hoping I'm not one of them and never become one of them.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Newspaper Title

"Billboard that states, 'Text-messaging causes 11-car pile-up,' causes 11-car pile-up"

Friday, July 25, 2008


I recently attended a two hour "seminar" of one of my professors at Edgewood. The topic of the seminar was basically "What personal baggage do we (as therapists) bring into the therapy session, or the 'system' if you will." For example, my professor is very turned off by racism - meaning she doesn't like it and it gets her upset easily when people are being racist. After the 9/11 catastrophe, one of her clients made some very derogatory comments generalizing all middle eastern people. It took all of my professor's energy to not "yell" at her client.

So, it got all of us attendee's minds going about what "triggers" we have. What sets us off? What will set us off? What are we sensitive about? Why? What do we hold important to us? How will we respond? How can we keep from responding negatively, thus turning our client off or damaging the open and trusting relationship?

This got me thinking that we could all benefit from knowing our hot buttons. Society could run a lot smoother if everyone was just a little more introspective.

Consider the parent that yells at a young referee at their child's soccer game or the person who screams out their window (and flashes the bird) to someone who cuts them off while driving down the road. Why do they overreact?
What about yelling at kids or a spouse/partner or an employee?
What about complaining all day about Favre or flooding or who's house gets rebuilt by ABC?
Do people really get that upset about each of those things? Why some people and not others?

As I've stated in previous posts, I think a lot of how people respond to things (including reviews) has a lot more to do with the person responding than the thing or situation they are responding to. I'd venture to say that most emotion is internal and is only elicited by external situations. Almost as if we look for an opportunity to release it. We need the release.

What if everyone knew where their pent up emotion came from, knew a healthy way to release it, and could come up with a successful way to avoid negative/damaging feelings from building up inside them in the future?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


I recently purchased a(nother) book from and inside the box, with the book, was a coupon for McDonalds for a free Southern Style (breakfast) Buscuit and a free Southern Style Chicken Sandwich. Today I tried the chicken sandwich for lunch and it was HORRIBLE!

Its gotta be processed chicken formed into the shape of a chicken breast. The "southern style" seasoning is bland and not very tasty. There were two pickels and a slightly buttered bun. That was it. The bun was only good because it was fresh and soft.

I noticed McD is charging $2.99 for the sandwich by itself. I wouldn't get another one if I had another free coupon; it was that bad! It is seriously the worst thing I've ever had from McD.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Crooked Parking

Scenario: You (someone) are circling a parking lot to find a parking stall near a store you are about to enter. The open spot closest to the store (by about 10 spots) is flanked by two cars that are both parked crooked so that their right wheels are over the yellow line to their right. So the car to the left of your spot has its right wheels in "your" open stall. BUT, because the car on the right side also parked on the far right of their stall, there is ample room for you to park there. If you're like the old me, you grumble to yourself about how stupid people can be, but since there is room you decide to pull into that spot - instead of parking 10 stalls farther away from the store - despite the fact that now your right wheels will be over the yellow line too.

At this point, are you any better than the two cars you were grumbling about?

I say, "No." Parking crooked is only going to perpetuate crooked parking for a longer period of time.

Have you considered that these two cars may have parked crooked ONLY because the cars that were there before them were crooked? Have you also considered that when you get out of the store, these two cars will be gone and you will be the "stupid person" who parked crooked? Did you consider that if you would have just parked 10 spots down in the first place, straight parking may have been restored to the entire row after the two crooked cars left?

Now I ask you to think about how this situation may relate to human nature, feedback loops, and change. How do our behaviors in our environments either promote or prohibit change for the betterment or detriment of our environment? Are we satisfied with playing the role of the "grumbler" or would we prefer to be the "changer for better"?

I will be a changer, thank you.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Culture and Guilt

I'll admit: I complain about being "poor". Its probably more out of anxiety that I've put on myself or wanting attention, but I complain. Oh, whoa is me, I've got only one salary, but I have 5 mouths to feed, a house payment, 2 old cars to maintain, clothing, bills, etc, etc. Oh yeah, and then there's the student loans and credit card bills. I pray that we can tread water for a few years until...

Then the other day I was listening to a man who was asking for donations to help people in poor African nations. A few days later, American Idol had their yearly episode of Idol Gives Back where they collect millions of dollars to aid both American and African causes. I also had a friend and a coworker recently travel to Africa and talk about the rampant sickness, poverty, violence, etc. (I realize Africa is not the only continent that has problems and needs help, it just happened to come up a few times in the past few weeks.)

One of the startling statistics I heard went something like this: $100 can feed a child in one of these poor nations for one year. The person telling me/us this urged us to consider donating $100, which is the cost of a nice dinner in Madison. And he's right. I've plenty of times gone out for a nice dinner with my wife or my wife and some friends and dropped $100. For one stupid meal that probably wasn't much more satisfying than a bowl of Cookie Crisp and left me feeling queasy for eating too much. Too much? I feel more guilty about eating TOO MUCH for ONE MEAL on $100 when that same amount will give a child enough food to live on for ONE YEAR???

I'm an ass.

I'm trying to figure out how I can lose weight when millions of people are trying to figure out how they're going to eat their next meal. I throw away pounds of bread, meat, cheese, and fruit each month that go bad before I get a chance to eat it.

So. Should I feel bad? I do, but should I? Should I feel bad about the country, region, city, family, or culture I was born into? Should I feel bad that I live in a culture that encourages individualism and personal success? Should I feel bad that my culture's economics is different than another's? Should I put myself in a worse situation in my culture in order to relieve my guilt based on another culture? Should I take into consideration that my culture allows me to live very comfortably with negative assets? I own a fraction of a house, but I owe for student loans and credit cards up the wazoo! Therefore, I am technically poorer (because my debts outweigh my assets) than people who have nothing even though I live in a society that allows that to be and makes for a rather comfortable quality of life.

Who's problem is this then? Is it a problem? What should I do about it? What can I do about it? Is it up to me to solve? Should other people expect handouts or are they the ones responsible for creating a solution? Am I the only one?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Choices Choices

Consider: At any given moment a person's choice of what to do is based purely on what they want to do, the "best option".
Repercussions: You cannot make anyone do - or want to do - anything; but you can change their environment which may allow them choose to want to do something themselves.

I'm thinking out loud here, so please feel free to add comments if you have counterpositives. I can't think of any myself right now.

1) I'm walking down the street and see a $10.00 bill. What do I do? I pick it up because at that moment it is worth stopping and bending over for the $10.00. Would I do that for one penny? Depends on the day, what I'm doing, where I'm going, and how my back is feeling.
2) I give to a charity of my choice. Do I really enjoy giving my money away? Generally no. I have a hard time paying $1.00 for a bottle of soda. But, I do get a warm feeling from knowing I'm helping someone who may need it more than I do. Guilt or Philanthropy or Karma or whatever can be very motivating, but each play a part in my wanting to do something. They don't cause it, but they play a part.
3) I clean the kitchen before my wife gets a chance. Do I love cleaning the kitchen? Hell no. Am I pretty confident that my wife will appreciate it? Yes. Am I hopeful that by cleaning my wife will be less busy, less stressed, have more time, and want to kiss me more? Yes. Have I made her kiss me? No. But have I altered her environment enough to help her want to? Perhaps.
4) My alarm goes off in the morning of a weekday. Do I want to get up? Not really. But my want to get up is slightly more than my want of getting fired for being late, or even the disappointing look of a boss for walking in late. I'm not going to take then entire day off, so I might as well be on time to avoid all of the negatives. So getting out of bed is the "best option".
5) A robber puts a gun to my head and demands I give him my money. At that point I WANT to give him my money because I'm hoping that by doing so he will take the gun away from my head. Did I want to give this person my money before they "demanded" it? Not really. But did the robber make me give him his money? No. I chose to because it was the best option. I could have not, but that could have led to the robber taking my money out of my dead hands.

Now consider my feelings or reactions to the above examples. Did I feel good about those? Some, yes. Some, no.
Specifically look at numbers 3 and 5. In one instance my wife and I are creating a positive environment by doing things that may perpetuate a positive cycle of behavior. Conversely, in number 5, I probably would not like that robber and would probably not want to associate with him any more - or even be around him. Do we ever figuratively "put a gun to someone's head"? Give ultimatums? Threats? Bribes? We may get what we want, and we may get that person to alter what they want, but at what cost?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Not so deep thought about heaven

I'll admit: I watch way more reality TV than I should. One minute would be too much for most of them, but I am a regular of American Idol, usually Dancing with the Stars, a few of The Newlyweds (or whatever it was called) and even got hooked on the end of The Biggest Loser (did you see that woman lost almost half her body weight?). I'm sure its because of these shows - and others that I had watched in the past - that this thought even came into my mind. Its a joke, so don't get too worked up if you are a conservative Christian, but...

What if you just died, and you were walking up a long, white, winding staircase into the clouds. After many steps (and you never get tired, because your going up to heaven) into a clearing in the clouds you see "THE PEARLY GATES" in all their glory. You hear the trumpets and harps and kazoos (hey, its my fantasy) playing the most beautiful music your ears have ever experienced.

Soon, you hear a soft click and the gates start to open inward. They move slow enough to be beautiful and grand, but quick enough that you don't anticipate what's behind them. When the gates are about half open, you see a man emerge from the fog behind. You suppose the man to be THE St. Peter, though you can't help but notice he looks and acts an awful lot like Jeff Probst (from Survivor). He congratulates you on making it this far and "playing the game" so well. Oddly he shows you a short 2-minute video that highlights (and lowlights) your life. Of course the video had some background music performed by Kelly Clarkson. After the video Peter, or Jeff, invites you to walk through the gates. You straighten your attire and think to yourself how easy that was: you didn't even have to answer any questions and they're letting you right in to heaven.

Immediately your arrogance is rewarded with a heavy dose of Karma as you realize Peter was only inviting you into heaven's waiting room - a polite way of saying, "Come in off the cloud, we can talk in here." Inside the foyer are all of the people you have ever come in contact with, like your own personal Verizon network, except no one is holding a cell phone. You see your parents, your children, your other family, your friends, teachers, bosses, coworkers, classmates, crossing guard, bus driver, lunch lady, the police officer that gave you a speeding ticket, and even the truck driver you yelled at for cutting you off on the highway. Amazingly you only recognize about one third of the people in the room. You don't even complete the thought, "Who are all of..." when you realize all of the peoples' lives you have affected who you didn't even know. You are humbled and terrified. Who...? When...? How...? Why...? Your mind is spinning. You feel dizzy. You think you might... Then you see that Peter is still smiling and you take that as a good sign, whether it is or isn't. You're not sure whether to run to your family and hug them or not; in fact you're not even sure if they're real or spirits or angels or something else. You decide to stay put, just inside the gates, until you are addressed by Peter.

After giving you ample time to scan the room, Peter says to you, "You've made it this far, but now it is up to them whether you are admitted into heaven or not." You feel as though you just ran full speed into a brick wall. Disoriented comes to mind. Everything you've done has lead you to this point and will now decide your fate. Your future. Your existence. Hundreds of thoughts fill your mind: tricking your sister, lying to your parents, breaking that girls heart, stealing that food, breaking that rule, not giving money to that beggar, not running in the charity run, missing that church service, lying to God... There are too many to take. You try to battle your own mind by thinking of all of the good things you've done too: doing well in school, volunteering at the soup kitchen, going to church every other time, raising a good family, helping the elderly neighbor, praying for people.... But even you are having a hard time convincing yourself that there have been more "goods" than "bads". Again, the How's and Why's berate your mind. Is this for real? Is my fate in the hands of people I love and people I don't even know?

Jeff, er Peter turns to the crowd of people and asks, "Has this person done what is necessary to enter the gates of heaven for eternity?" With out ever taking their eyes off of you, each person writes something on a small piece of paper and drops it into a collection-type basket going around. It seems to take an eternity just to collect all of the votes - or whatever they are - yet, when its completed, it has gone too fast. The basket disappears. You move your head back and forth to see if you can spot the holder of your destiny, to no avail.

After only a minute a tall, handsome man in a dark suit walks toward you and Peter from the side. Peter introduces him as a representative from Ernst & Young, who have undoubtedly tabulated the votes and are delivering them via secret envelope. You are too focused and scared to realize how cheezy that is. Peter accepts the envelope, waits for the representative to dismiss himself, and opens the envelope. Upon seeing the result, Peter cannot help but utter an indiscriminate, "Huh."

He slowly raises his eyes to you, and looks you straight in the eyes as if he's piercing your soul, and says, "Ryan...we'll tell you your fate right after these messages..."

Friday, April 11, 2008

Adilyn Renee

Sorry I've been slacking on my blog... My wonderful, amazing wife gave birth to another beautiful baby girl on April 1st, Adilyn Renee Hartberg. It was a pitocin-induced labor with an eventual epidural about halfway though the 7 hours of contractions. But fortunately the active labor (pushing) only lasted about 10 minutes and both mother and baby did great. Adie (for short) came out at 7 lbs 7 oz and 19", with a cute little nose and mouth and big cheeks. She made an instant connection to her mother and has been a great baby so far. Unfortunately Christy was "given" a spinal headache, which is when the epidural needle punctures the sack holding the cerebralspinal fluid. It can take upto 4-6 weeks to heal on its own so she had to have two blood patches to help eliminate the headaches. (A blood patch is when they take blood and put it by the spine so that the blood will clot and plug the hole in the spinal fluid sack. First one didn't take completely, but the second seems to be doing well.) You can see pictures of her on Christy's blog (link below and to the right), but you'll need a google username and password to see pictures of our kids, so let me know if you need that. Otherwise take our nurse's word for it, "She is the cutest baby in the nursery."

As Christy had mentioned in her emails/blog, we are forever indebted to all of our friends and family that have, and continue to, pray for us, babysit, visit, bring food, call, offer to help, etc. We are truly blessed to have a network (read: system) of such wonderful people around us. I don't know how we would have gotten this far with them/you.

Similary, after watching Idol Gives Back, its amazing how good we have it here in America - at least my family. I don't have to walk the streets begging for money every day, and yet when my wife has a baby and needs two more anesthesiologists to give her blood patches, our insurance takes care of everything. I feel fortunate to have access to health care so that my wife and children are taken care of whenever they need it.

I'm reading a good book called The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker right now, so I hope to gather some good information for future blog entries.

God Bless

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Global Warming My Ass!

So, Madison, Wisconsin has now recorded well over 100 inches of total snowfall this winter. In case you are reading this from Siberia, that is a record for us. This would have been a great year to live in an apartment or own a condo where someone else was responsible for snow removal. Since March 1st - or perhaps even a little before that - I have boycotted shoveling. After repeated back pains, shoulder and hand soreness, and one broken shovel, I have decided that it will be warmer than 32 degrees eventually and the sun will melt it for me. No sense in overdoing it. I only shovel the end of the driveway where the city plows put a 4-foot wall of ice and snow baracading me in my own driveway so that my wife and kids can get out once in a while. Oh, and on the news last night, the meteorologist mentioned we should be getting another 4-7 inches later this week. Sweet.

So, where the hell has Al Gore been lately? I noticed he didn't have any speaking engagements about global warming in Wisconsin lately. Him and other uneducated people blaming everything on global warming is really starting to annoy me. I'm not saying we shouldn't be conscious about our environment; I'm just saying stop blaming everything on global warming when you have no evidence to support your claim. I'm pretty sure Global Warming wasn't responsible for Madison, WI getting 100+ inches of snowfall. Or was it?

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Last Supper?

I was eating lunch today at a local establishment - a diner with a lot of old pop culture posters - when my eyes stumbled upon the above picture. As you probably know, it is a parody on Leonardo da Vinci's "The Last Supper" (of Jesus surrounded by his 12 Apostles).

Admittedly, I had the slightest "reaction" to seeing it. Although not severe, my reaction was just slightly on the negative side of neutral. I have often been fascinated with the original "Last Supper" because of its beauty and all of the question marks surrounding its meanings, such as the faces, the postures, the order, and the background. Obviously I am not the only person who has had some kind of reaction to the original: (see a blog that has collected many different parodies at

As far as I know, da Vinci's work was a "tribute" or sign of respect (as a gift to aristocracy) or at least to be looked at in a positive light by Christians. It wasn't to mock or ridicule by any means.

I found it interesting that someone thought it was a good idea to replace the figures with actors instead of Jesus and the Apostles. I find it even more interesting that a woman would replace Jesus' position; and even more "interesting" that it would be Marilyn Monroe - potentially the most famous female antithesis of Jesus of the 20th Century. Further, many of the men in the "Hollywood Last Supper" also do not exactly exemplify Christian values.

I understand parody and wanting to make a bold statement for sales; but I also understand sacrilege. The irony is fantastic: the poster "artist" used the famous depiction of a Christian scene to make money based on pop culture. How backward is that? I wonder if the creator of the poster also tried to sell it in a temple...

Friday, March 14, 2008

Traveling Wilburys

This isn't very deep, but I recently heard about this group called the Traveling Wilburys. The group is comprised of Nelson Wilbury, Otis Wilbury, Lefty Wilbury, Charlie T. Jr., and Lucky Wilbury. Or, more commonly referred to as George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty, and Bob Dylan, respectively. You may have heard of some of these guys before...

You can hear/see their song "Handle With Care" at

You can also learn more about the forming of this group at


Sunday, March 9, 2008

What's the point?

I love to read. I love to watch movies. I love listening to new music and new artists. I have absolutely no problem commenting on what I read, see, and hear. I will watch Ebert and Roeper. I've even joked with friends about the idea of becoming a movie reviewer.

But just recently I wondered, "What's the point of professional 'reviews'?" Why should I take stock in what any other person thinks of anything, let alone "works of art". Isn't everything subjective?

In my opinion, a review tells me a lot more about the reviewer than it does about what that person is reviewing.

A person will review a movie based on how that movie impacts them, and that has a lot more to do what that person is about, or what that person is dealing with at that time. Will I like a movie just because someone else likes that movie - a so-called "expert"? Take a look at your own family or your workplace or your class at school or your local grocery store: do you think everyone in those groups would like or dislike all of the same movies?

Further, I think the same person would review the same movie differently based on where and when they watch it. The review would be different if the reviewer watched the movie 2 hours apart, 2 days apart, 2 months apart, or 2 years apart. So even if the I agreed with the expert reviewer one time, what is to say I would have at another time?

For example, I recently saw The Pursuit of Happyness about a man struggling to become successful and his young son. The movie touched me deeply and I generally liked it because I could relate to it. That being said, I would probably not have liked it near as much 5 years ago before I was married, or had a serious career, or had a son who I am crazy about.

If I am going to take anything away from a published review, then I would first need to read a brief biography on the reviewer so I know where they are coming from. Otherwise it won't really help.

So, if everything I say is even remotely accurate, then what is the point of professional reviewers publishing reviews about anything: books, movies, music, restaurants, or anything? What's the point?

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Fair Transaction

I've noticed that I'm getting a lot of hits to my blog via my LinkedIn website. They are probably wondering why my blog topics are so random and not "business related". Well folks, there's a lot more to Ryan Hartberg than selling a boat load of trash cans. I'm a complex man in a complex world, or something like that. Anyway, something "business related" recent caught my attention, and I think its something worth repeating and spreading around.

My brother David, who is a very successful businessman and strong leader, lent me the book Nothing to Fear: Lessons in Leadership from FDR by Alan Axelrod. I haven't yet finished the book, but one of the very early "entries" really hit home with me. The title of the entry is "What's Worth Winning" and the accompanying quote from FDR was, "A selfish victory is always destined to be an ultimate defeat." Axelrod begins by challenging the idea that for every winner there must be a loser and for every gain on one side there must be a loss on the other side. In business this does not necessarily be true - companies can trade value for value - although, unfortunately it can be true if both parties in a transaction aren't on the same page.

Being in sales, it made me realize that it is important to make sure all of my relationships, techniques, and arrangements have integrity and insure future success on my part as well as my client's part. In my industry (waste hauling/removal), the transaction is money for service. In theory, the exchange is even - or at least perceived as even; though that quantity may change for individual clients. If I take advantage of my client by 1) overcharging them for a service or 2) underservicing them based on their price, then I am doing my client a great disservice. Similarly if my client 1) refuses to pay its bill or 2) demands that my company repeatedly go above and beyond its agreed upon terms for the price (always requiring extra service and time, etc), then my company would lose money. In either case, over time - especially if every transaction is similarly inequitable - one or both of the companies could/would go out of business.

Axelrod ends with,

"A selfish victory, a one-sided 'bargain,' is necessarily a dead end, whereas a victory for all concerned, a transaction in which true value is exchanged for true value, necessarily leads to additional victories of this kind."

In other words, it doesn't do any good to take advantage of another company; we should want all clients to be successful so that they can continue to be our clients. And we should not want to take advantage of our vendors, because we would want out vendors to be successful and continue to be our vendors. This mentality breeds long-term relationships. The alternative is a series of burns and short-term, non-trusting relationships in which everyone loses.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


A few years ago my wife and I went to see Damien Rice perform at the Barrymore Theater off Atwood Ave in Madison - a relatively intimate venue where every seat is a good seat. Damien Rice is an Irish singer-songwriter who's album's "O" and "9" are passionately performed, though relatively dark. Most of his songs include either a cellist and/or a woman backup singer who's voice is beautiful.

Well, Damien Rice was.... well.... weird. He performed a couple of cool songs, but all of the weirdness between songs really ruined the show for me. That being said, the opening act STOLE THE SHOW!!! That opening act was The Frames - an Irish band that Damien "brought with him" to tour. The Frames were entertaining, funny, engaging, and very strong musically. They are a full band including keyboards and an electric violin (that really rocked). After the concert, we ended up buying a Frames CD entitled "Set List" which sounded a lot like the live concert and is very good.

The lead singer of The Frames? Glen Hansard.

Well, I've since passed that CD on to some of my friends, including David Sutter, who also enjoyed it. Last week David called me to recommend a movie ("Once") and a song from that movie ("Falling Slowly"). The movie Once stars the Frames lead singer, Glen Hansard, and a Czech (I think) woman Marketa Irsglova. Its a complicated love story where the movie's tag line is "How often to you find the right person? Once." The movie is decent - just be ready for an Indy-type film - but the soundtrack, which features songs performed by Glen and Marketa, is really good. If you are looking for a different sound, but a great listen, check it out on iTunes or wherever you get your music these days. I think certain songs sound similar to Damien Rice (with his woman backup singer), Dido, and maybe a tiny bit like certain Bare Naked Ladies songs. As one person said, Hansard is "Raw and clear".

Friday, February 22, 2008


I was listening to ESPN radio this morning, and two guys were talking about Indiana University men's basketball coaches over the last few years. They were talking about the ideal coach having three "qualities":
1) They are friendly - with players, administration, media, fans, etc. In other words, "They play nice with others".
2) They are compliant - meaning they graduate their players, they don't break any NCAA rules, they don't cheat, etc.
3) They are successful; they win a lot of games.

Originally, Indiana's coach was Bob Knight. Bob was compliant and successful, but was not very nice to his players and the media. So they fired him.

Then, Mike Davis came along. He was super nice and compliant, but he didn't win enough basketball games. So they fired him.

Now, Indiana has Kelvin Sampson. He is nice and wins basketball games, but apparently he broke 5 NCAA rules (again) and lied to the NCAA about it. So, what are they going to do? Probably fire him.

My point is, the two radio guys were saying how hard it is to find a top-notch coach who can fulfill all three of the above requirements.

I thought Shouldn't ALL employees at every company/organization hold these three qualities!?!?! Shouldn't we all be nice, compliant, and good at what we do? Should it be that hard to find someone who is (other than at the State)?

I'd love to hear some stories about you and your co-workers (or EX-coworkers)!

Thursday, February 21, 2008


"The only place SUCCESS comes before WORK is in the dictionary."

This quote was brought to me by my coworker Janelle. I'll probably start a revolving favorite quote section on the side bar.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Mirror, mirror on the wall...

What "invention" dating back to as early as 6000 B.C. has the ability to "manipulate" input and give output/feedback quicker than the fastest, most powerful computer?

Answer: a mirror.

If you stop and think about the "power" of the mirror, you, too, may find it to be one of the most awesome, amazing, interesting, scarey, profound, terrible, yet simple invention ever.

Yes, the mirror has been instrumental in the creation and usage of cars, televisions, video equipment, telescopes, microscopes, and even decor.

But, the mirror has also helped perpetuate vanity and suicide.

How can an inatimate object - a simple piece of reflective glass - (help) make a young girl feel so crappy about herself or give a handsome man feelings of grandiose? When a beautiful young girl looks into a mirror and does not like what she sees, is that a problem?

I understand that the mirror isn't "doing" anything other than reflecting. I find it interesting that different people seeing the same reflection will "see" or at least "perceive" very different things. Similarly, the same person will see the same refelction differently at different times.

When it comes right down to it, should we even use mirrors for appearance reasons? Mirrors can be very helpful to get an eyelash out of your eye, but do we really need it to see how we dress, how our clothes fit, or how our hair looks?

If we all got rid of our mirrors at the same time, would we ever need to start using them again?

Would we judge or care if everyone's hair looked imperfect or different or "bad" if our own did too?

This is a crappy attempt at expressing some of my thoughts about the way a person can impact what a mirror reflects. Please add your own comments below in a manner that may be more concise, clear, and interesting...

Monday, February 18, 2008

Alfred Chalres Kinsey

Tonight I watched the movie "Kinsey" for an assignment in my Human Sexuality and Sexual Dysfuction class. For those of you are not familiar with the movie or who he is, you can check out his bio at Bascially he was a zoologist at Indiana University who ended up becoming a sexologist who did research on many things related to sex that were considered taboo, or worse - immoral - at the time. He had to privately fund his research, yet produced many books, including The Kinsey Reports: Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male (and in another later book, Female).
One aspect of the movie that came up very little was the influence on love on sex and, I suppose, the influence of sex on love. When asked, Kinsey said, "Love is not measurable." I don't disagree that the point of his study was on sex and the measurable aspects of sex, but doing a study about sex without considering love is like doing a study about fish without considering water: you can count fish, categorize them, put the fish under a microscope and cut in open to tell me how they work, but if you can't tell me why they live in water and how the water affects them, then I would say there are certain limitations on the published report. That is not to say that his reports aren't accurate or complete (in their own right) or wonderful for science, I'm just saying that you have to take it - like all research and findings - with a grain of salt, or at least with a certain understanding of what was attempting to be accomplished in the first place.
Kinsey did bring one "revolutionary" idea to the mainstream public: people are not necessarily completely 100% heterosexual or homosexual. Based on actual past experience, many people are somewhere else along a continuum. Kinsey wrote,
"Males do not represent two discrete populations, heterosexual and homosexual. The world is not to be divided into sheep and goats. It is a fundamental of taxonomy that nature rarely deals with discrete categories... The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects.
While emphasising the continuity of the gradations between exclusively heterosexual and exclusively homosexual histories, it has seemed desirable to develop some sort of classification which could be based on the relative amounts of heterosexual and homosexual experience or response in each history... An individual may be assigned a position on this scale, for each period in his life.... A seven-point scale comes nearer to showing the many gradations that actually exist." (Kinsey, et al. (1948). pp. 639, 656)
See more about the "Kinsey Scale" at

He also metioned that many of the sexual acts that humans did that were considered immoral or taboo back in the 1950's were not any different than what other animal species did. I'll let you decide how you want to interpret/accept that.
I've always found it amazing how little sex is talked about in society yet how it is (or can be) such a major part of our lives. Many single people spend a lot of their free time searching for a mate. I'm sure companionship is very important, but I don't know many people who are single and looking for a completely platonic relationship. Similarly, based on my experiences and training, sex (or lack of) is often a point of contention in marriages.
That being said, I hope that this entry makes you feel uncomfortable - that means you're growing.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

NIU Shooting

I'm not sure about anyone else, but I'm pretty tired of reading about school shootings. This week was a murder (of 5 innocent victims)-suicide at Northern Illinois in Dekalb, IL. I'll assume that you have heard of it, know the details, or will at or wherever you get your news, but a couple of things stick out to me:
1) He completed his undergrad at NIU (where the shooting took place), but was a current student at U of Illinois (the Illini of the Big Ten).
2) He was a good student and was well respected by faculty at both schools.
3) As of now, there is no published motive - though I wonder if there is a reason the shootings took place at NIU other than familiarity from his undergrad.
4) He was a sociology student interested in matters related to prisons and criminals.
5) From a article, "the AP reported that Kazmierczak's parents had placed him in a Chicago psychiatric treatment center after high school. A former employee of the center said Kazmierczak habitually cut himself and wouldn't take his medication, according to the AP." and that "He also told a friend that he was given a psychological discharge from the Army after six months in the service in 2001-2002, according to the AP."
6) Lastly, according to the same article, "People close to him have told police he was taking medication but had stopped and had become "somewhat erratic" in the last couple of weeks."

Here's the link to the article:

Has anyone heard what medications he was on before he stopped taking them? Anyone have any further information on his family or upbringing?

It'd be really easy to huff and puff about how our society is going down the drain and all of these school shootings are the same, but each shooter is unique and each situation should be studied independently to see what can be learned.

Valentine's Day

I'm curious to know people's thoughts on Valentine's Day. My wife and I don't really go crazy over the day - at least not this year. I think we've taken the approach that we should that we love each other every day, instead of just on a day that Mr./Mrs. Hallmark says we should. So, I had flowers delivered for my wife and daughter and bought some match box cars for my son, and my wife got me a nice, heartfelt card, but that was it for us. We didn't go out for dinner (mostly because I had class that night), we didn't buy chocolates, we didn't get any gifts, etc. I guess we did go out for lunch with the kids. And, my wife make valentine's with the kids for some the grandparents and their friends.

I had one friend that got engaged on V-Day, so that was pretty unique (at least for him), so how did you all celebrate this year, and generally how do you feel about the day?

Friday, February 15, 2008

Same-Sex Marriage

So, for those of you who do not know, I am taking two classes at Edgewood College this semester. I'll probably write more about that later, though. We were asked to read some essays and discuss the question: "Should Same-Sex Marriage be Legal?" I'd be interested in people's perspectives. Please leave comments below or feel free to vote to the right. Thanks for your honest opinions accepted without judgment (by me at least). I'll consider adding my thoughts later, but I want to see your initial responses beforehand. Thanks!

Thursday, February 14, 2008


Hey there,

This is my first blog...what do they call them....? Entry? Yeah, entry..... EVER!

Welcome to Ryan's World!

I can't promise I'll always make sense, but I hope to always make you think.

I reckon I will write a lot about people, the interactions between people, the how's, the why's. There will be statements, thoughts, and predictions as well as inquiries and requests.

I hope that every time you visit my blog (which may be only once) that you will feel challenged and experience growth. That being said, this blog will be more for me than for you. I've heard if you want to be a good writer, then you have to practice writing. Well, this is my practice, I suppose.

Please add me to your favorites, visit often, leave comments, and shoot me thought provoking emails (via my profile page)!